Despite a good supporting cast and pretensions to something more than standard martial-arts mayhem, RAPID FIRE demonstrates little more than the late Brandon Lee's ability to carry an action film.
The son of martial arts superstar Bruce Lee makes his major studio debut as Los Angeles art student Jake Lo, who gets caught up in a bloody three-way vendetta involving a grizzled Chicago cop, Mace Ryan (Powers Boothe), and a competing pair of drug kingpins, Antonio Serrano and Kinman Tau (Nick
Mancuso and Tzi Ma). The mayhem is set in motion by Serrano, a Mafia drug distributor who wants a bigger piece of Far Eastern supplier Tau's business. Turned off from politics after witnessing the death of his father at Tiananmen Square, Lo is lured to a party of Chinese pro-democracy activists by
a sexy figure model from one of his art classes. While there he witnesses the killing of the party sponsor, one of Tau's associates, by Serrano.
Placed under protective custody by federal agents, Lo is brought to Chicago to testify against Serrano where he barely escapes an attempt on his life by crooked agents. With nowhere else to turn, he teams up with Ryan and becomes romantically involved with Ryan's right-hand woman, Karla Withers
(Kate Hodge), a tough but sexy Chicago cop. Ryan uses Lo as bait to lure Serrano into giving details of his next big drug shipment. But the arrest of Serrano turns into a pitched battle of bullets, fists and feet. When the smoke clears, Serrano has indeed been apprehended, but he's killed in
custody by Tau's henchmen, forcing Ryan to use Lo once again as a pigeon.
Posing as a worker, Lo is sent into the heart of Tau's industrial laundry operation to find out how Tau manages to process his imported opium without soiling any shirts. Lo succeeds, but again things go haywire, forcing Lo to kill his way out to his final confrontation with Tau on the tracks of
the Chicago El.
RAPID FIRE is little more than a classy resume film, hobbled by an overcomplicated, undermotivated screenplay. In a perhaps commendable effort to put a new twist into the usual action formula, the filmmakers create a layer of character development in Jake's problematic relationship with his
father, which is echoed in his relationship with Ryan. However, the only real effect is to draw attention to the plot's more generic implausibilities, starting with what Lo is even doing in the middle of the film's two big battles. The father-son subplot never makes much sense even on its own
terms anyway, with Lo attempting to obtain his father's files from the government for some reason or other that has no bearing on the main action. The simple fact is that martial-arts action movies work best when their plots maintain an elemental, almost boneheaded simplicity, hopefully leavened
with humor--either intentional or unintentional.
In this case, an opportunity was missed with a talented cast. Mancuso (TIGER WARSAW, UNDER SIEGE) vamps shamelessly and entertainingly through his role as an overripe Mafioso. Boothe (SOUTHERN COMFORT, THE EMERALD FOREST), who can be funny, here mostly plays it straight with a cop who's as inept
as he is tough, being unable to make simple arrests without shooting up half of Chicago. Ma (THE MONEY PIT, ROBOCOP 2), an accomplished stage veteran, takes top acting honors with a taut, businesslike performance as an entrepreneur whose chief enterprise happens to be death in a variety of
forms--from bullets to white powders. Unfortunately, director Dwight Little can never seem to get his ensemble into anything resembling high gear.
Instead, the action feels bulky and slow-moving, belying the film's title. RAPID FIRE could have used more speed and fury and much less soul-searching static. Lee is the only real reason to watch this film, which gained a certain additional cachet after his death on the set of his next feature,
THE CROW. RAPID FIRE proves him to have been an engaging, easygoing screen presence who handled action sequences with some of his father's style and grace. Lee had signed a multi-picture deal with Carolco, the high-profile production company responsible for films including TOTAL RECALL and BASIC
INSTINCT, and was clearly on his way to bigger and better things. (Violence, profanity, adult situations, nudity.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: Despite a good supporting cast and pretensions to something more than standard martial-arts mayhem, RAPID FIRE demonstrates little more than the late Brandon Lee's ability to carry an action film. The son of martial arts superstar Bruce Lee makes his majo… (more)